The project to revamp downtown São Paulo

. Jun 22, 2019
anhangabau The project to revamp downtown São Paulo

When elected officials announce new, grandiose projects, São Paulo residents know better than to get excited right away. After all, delays and hiccups are part of public works in Brazil. The metro line connecting the city center to Guarulhos International Airport was promised for the 2014 World Cup—but only opened when Brazil was taking the field as the World Cup in Russia, four years later. So, when the mayor’s office announced a project to revitalize the iconic Anhanbagaú Valley, few people batted an eyelid.

But City Hall seems to be more committed to its project, which is the largest revamp sponsored by the Bruno Covas administration so far. The municipal government expects to finish the works by June 2020, spending BRL 80 million. “The Anhangabaú Valley revamp boosts not only the debate about the ways to use and recover environmental structures of public spaces but it also improves and renews the structure of downtown,” City Hall representatives told The Brazilian Report.

</p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The overhaul was announced on Monday and, by Thursday, workers were seen breaking paving stones and cleaning the space, to make room for construction equipment. In fact, to fulfill the ambitious plan, they will need to work fast.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The project includes a complete change of the so-called “Portuguese mosaic” paving stones—beautiful, but far from functional—to make it accessible for people with disabilities and friendlier for cyclists and skateboarders. It will also create a huge wide space, suitable for gathering thousands of people during events and allowing an easy transfer from the two metro stations (São Bento and Anhangabaú) which flank the valley.</span></p> <div id="attachment_19590" style="width: 1011px" class="wp-caption alignnone"><img aria-describedby="caption-attachment-19590" loading="lazy" class="size-full wp-image-19590" src="" alt="anhangabau The project to revamp downtown São Paulo" width="1001" height="667" srcset=" 1001w, 300w, 768w, 610w" sizes="(max-width: 1001px) 100vw, 1001px" /><p id="caption-attachment-19590" class="wp-caption-text">City Hall projections of the Anhangabaú Valley</p></div> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Parallel streets will also be renovated with new newspaper stands, trash bins, and drinking fountains. Neighboring Avenida São João, one of the center&#8217;s most famous thoroughfares, will also have new trees, in order to create shade and reduce temperatures. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">For Mario Biselli, a professor at Presbyterian University Mackenzie who runs the office hired to develop the project, the idea is to create a massive wide area, with a cozier atmosphere that invites people to actually enjoy the space. “São Paulo does not have a wide open area like this, oriented in a straight line—that’s why Avenida Paulista is so important, but even there you have obstacles, such as the median strip. The idea was to add a monumental terrace and, right next to it, the feeling of being in a neighborhood. It will become a very important space for the city,” he told </span><b>The Brazilian Report.</b></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Mr. Biselli—who will explain the details about the project in his office’s new book, “</span><span style="font-weight: 400;">Biselli Katchborian Arquitetos”</span><span style="font-weight: 400;">—says that the plan was heavily influenced by studies conducted by the City Hall, alongside Danish architect Jan Gehl, and therefore is deeply concerned about how to make it more functional and inviting for the public.  </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">But the project’s highlight is actually a return to the area’s origins. Anhangabaú is named after a river that used to flow through downtown São Paulo and was canalized and paved over in the late 19th century. To reclaim this heritage, the project is going to install 850 water jets all around the valley, that may be turned on or off depending on the moment’s needs. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“The water jets are configured so as not to interrupt the commuting lines between the subway and bus stops, that are actually in an X-axis. Where people pass, it will always be dry, but during the summer it will help to diminish the heat. It will also be very environmentally-friendly because the water will be reused and stored,” Mr. Biselli explained, saying that the project, conceived in 2015, was influenced by the <a href="">droughts the city faced at the time</a>. </span></p> <h2>Debris over a glorious past</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Anhangabaú’s current state couldn’t be further from the beautiful vistas foreseen by the project. Home to some of São Paulo’s most famous landmarks, such as the Theatro Municipal, Viaduto do Chá, and Viaduto Santa Ifigênia, it is a shadow of its former glory. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In the beginning of the 20th century, the surrounding area was upmarket but began a slow process of decay and abandonment, along with the rest of downtown São Paulo. The valley, which in the 1980s hosted 1.5 million people fighting for democracy during </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">a famous rally calling for direct presidential elections</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">—Brazil’s largest ever demonstration at the time—is now occupied by homeless people. Many locals feel insecure walking across the valley, even in daylight, for fear of being mugged, despite a constant police presence.</span></p> <p><img loading="lazy" class="alignnone size-full wp-image-19593" src="" alt="anhangabau The project to revamp downtown São Paulo" width="1002" height="668" srcset=" 1002w, 300w, 768w, 610w" sizes="(max-width: 1002px) 100vw, 1002px" /></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The current revamp is at least the fourth major project of urban revitalization of the Anhangabaú valley and has been mulled over since 2013. Back in the 1920s, it became a modern landscaped park, which was later transformed into </span><a href=",como-era-sao-paulo-sem-o-vale-do-anhangabau,9028,0.htm"><span style="font-weight: 400;">a large avenue</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> in the 1950s to make it easier to cross through the center of the city. The most recent project is from the late 1980s and early 1990s, turning it into a boulevard. By that time, it was already an attempt to improve the image of downtown São Paulo.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">This time around, the City Hall is considering partnerships with private companies as an alternative to improve the area’s management and avoid issues such as vandalism once the works are concluded. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“The City Hall is studying a space management model, aiming to foster cultural, commercial and leisure activities in the area, complementing them with social measures to support the entire population. This model will be defined during the project&#8217;s execution and may fully or partially involve the private sector.&#8221;</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Local merchants do not seem so confident about it. Newsstand owner Rafael Vitielo, who has been working at Anhangabaú for more than 20 years, believes that it takes more than beautiful architecture to recover the space for good. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“I’m not sure about it. Because if you don’t take care of homeless people, it won’t work. The social workers try to take them to a shelter, but they don’t want to go; they should be removed nonetheless. I mean, look around, it used to be a picture-postcard landscape. Now, would you come here at night?,” he asks, raising his voice above the noise of a nearby pneumatic drill. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The City Hall has a team of 27 social workers in the area as well as permanent police patrols; representatives told </span><b>The Brazilian Report</b><span style="font-weight: 400;"> that social actions will be intensified and merchants will be advised about the impact of construction on their businesses. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">For Mr. Biselli, the architecture may also help to avoid an eventual gentrification process, as the project was thought up to have different uses—such as seats which may be used as features for skaters.  “There’s a dilemma. Every time you improve the area, it will become more expensive. But should we leave it as it is now? I think everyone will be benefited by better space,” he says.

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Natália Scalzaretto

Natália Scalzaretto has worked for companies such as Santander Brasil and Reuters, where she covered news ranging from commodities to technology. Before joining The Brazilian Report, she worked as an editor for Trading News, the information division from the TradersClub investor community.

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